Saturday, 21 February 2009

Townsend: Refocus on inequalities and World Bank

Veteran anti-poverty campaigner Peter Townsend said after looking at domestic banks and their weaknesses, it was time to look at the inextricable links between the domestic and international economies.
There were examples of this every day, he said, just this week there had been the announcement of job cuts in Swindon because of the problems going on with Honda in Japan.
Townsend said the key organisation that he would like to "take a bit of stick to" was the World Bank, and part of his interest has arisen because of work on child poverty around the world.
If you took a look at the GDP of the 53 low income countries in the world it was less than the total of the income of the five biggest international companies, he pointed out in a speech that identified the weaknesses of the World Bank.
The World Bank had not achieved reductions in child poverty across the world, he said at the Fabian conference.
Then he went on to point to an increasingly lack of transparency about the actions of transnational companies, partly because of the dismantling of three UN bodies that used to track this, he argued.
Townsend, a LSE lecturer, also argued for decent labour conditions down the line, among subsidaries of big companies, and public awareness of this.

1 comment:

Tom Stratton said...

I thought Peter Townsend’s intervention was one of the most interesting of the day, reminding us that beyond Britain’s shores there was poverty and exploitation unimaginable to most people living in Britian today and in the spirit of the Webbs we combat all poverty. I did disagree with some of what he said, and in particular where he lay the blame for child poverty in particular. The World Bank, like many of the Bretton Woods institutions is a product of its time and the circumstances around its inception. The influence of the US and the ideology that these institutions adopt has been critcally examined and is a well publicised debate. Ultimately, however, the World Bank is relatively powerless to enforce many of its stated aims due to the lack of a commonly accepted international arbitor. This means that for all its good intentions, the mechanisms through which the World Bank can enforce its standards on child poverty and labour conditions for child workers are flimsy. Who, then, has the power to ensure that poverty beyond our borders is tackled? To pilfer a phrase used at the conference in slightly different circumstances but equally applicable here, there are ‘pockets of power’ everywhere that need to be harnessed and coordinated. The governments in less developed countries do bear a responsitbility, however, the capability of the state and willingness of national politicians do not always accomodate stringent enforcement of standards. The people in the countries affected by exploitation and poverty do have a voice if they are educated as to what their basic rights are and are provided with appropriate channels of recourse through which to publicise their discontent. Finally, we in developed countries are able to determine whether companies perpetuating poverty and misery and governments complying in this are held to account. By spending our money according to our sentiments and avoiding exploitative companies we can make the major markets inhospitable to those that perpetuate poverty. What Peter Townsend is completely right about is the importance of information on the activities of transnational corporations in order to best equip us to make such decisions. Perhaps, an adequate replacement of the three UN agencies that were abolished would be a useful first step to alleviating the conditions the Professor highlighted, but we all have to accept our significant role in the fight.